There has been a substantial amount of branded content on international television channels over the past few years. Advertisers have sought to connect with audiences and build their brands in a way that goes much deeper than straight spot advertising. However, there have been concerns as to the effectiveness of the partnerships between advertisers and broadcasters.
"In a world where broadband and video on demand are emerging, the industry is coming to the conclusion that TV channels are probably the worst medium for branded content," Nigel Walley, the chairman of the Branded Content Marketing Association and the managing director of Decipher, says.
Colin Lawrence, the BBC World vice-president sales strategy, operations and commercial content, says branded content is a growth area, but he does acknowledge that the degree of collaboration and communication needed - not to mention cost - can sometimes surprise advertisers. Lawrence feels the campaigns that work best are those exploited through a variety of channels, notably online.
Nisha Gupta, the ZenithOptimedia international account director, agrees, adding: "It's an area that will grow, because we are looking for new ways to target viewers effectively. Since a media-neutral approach is the way forward, branded content is one of the routes clients may increasingly take."
Mark Boyd, the director of content at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, has reservations about advertising-funded programming on big international channels. "The channels don't have the stickiness in local markets, and broadcasters have unrealistic expectations of what people might pay," he warns.
Qualms aside, some interesting partnerships have been forged, leading to the creation of content that might not otherwise have made it to TV. Here are six examples, complete with comments from Simon Davis, the managing partner at Walker Media, and Emma Asquith, the media director of Carat. Plus, Campaign's own mark out of ten.
IBM, the official supplier of technology to Wimbledon, worked with MindShare to create four exclusive vignettes highlighting "what makes Wimbledon special?" Each one-and-a-half-minute programme featured interviews with top Wimbledon and IBM executives discussing the role IBM plays in making Wimbledon special. These vignettes ran on CNBC throughout the Wimbledon fortnight. They could also be downloaded from the IBM website and were distributed to IBM sales staff to help with pitches.
The campaign generated a 10 per cent year-on-year increase in visitors to IBMWimbledon.org and IBM identified this as its key success measure.
MindShare's Mark Campbell said: "None of it was scripted, we didn't want to sound contrived. The biggest challenge was keeping it at a pace engaging for the senior suit. IBM was delighted."
Walker Media's Davis feels that the content "effectively balances key visual cues from IBM's Innovation messaging with a style that borrows from CNBC's editorial output. Granular in detail, but credible to a business audience".
Campaign score: 8/10
A set of short-form programmes were devised to position InterContinental Hotels as the authoritative business traveller brand. The 80-second "insider concierge" vignettes used tips from local concierges to show travellers how to get the best out of five of the world's great cities - London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Buenos Aires - in the process reflecting InterContinental's values. MPG originated the project. While the agency Contentworx worked with AOL TimeWarner to create a fully integrated cross-platform media solution. It ran three times a month in primetime on CNN global feeds.
The former MPG client services director, and founder of Contentworx, Andrew Canter, says: "This is a fairly untapped market which is pretty unregulated. It's down to brands to have the courage to experiment. It all comes down to the fact that content is key."
Walker Media's Davis says of the work: "It probably engages well with business travellers by offering unusual and (reasonably) surprising tips. It feels a bit generic, though."
Campaign score: 6/10
Responding to Nissan's need for a football-related property with promotional extensions and franchising possibilities, The Vidal Partnership, a specialist US Hispanic marketing agency, launched The Nissan Rematch in the spring of 2006. Produced by London and Miami-based Zeal Television, this five-part reality show aired exclusively on Fox Sports en Espanol, Fox Sports and various Fox channels throughout the world. The show ambushes and persuades original players from the US's and Mexico's 1998 World Cup squads to come back for a rematch, culminating in a live final in Los Angeles.
The show specifically targeted hard-to-reach, football-mad Hispanic viewers. Ticket promotions, meet-the-players, online-voting and test drive events hugely augmented the value of the campaign. A new series has been signed off.
"It's entertaining, and gets under the skin of the footie fan without giving itself away," Simon Davis, of Walker Media, says. "Branded content is best when the commercial partner puts credibility ahead of literal interpretations of brand objectives. The benefit to Nissan depends on how well the concept is extended off-air."
Campaign score: 6/10
ZenithOptimedia was asked by Toyota to develop a communications plan that would support Toyota's positioning of "One Aim". By partnering with Discovery Channel to bring the Formula One experience to viewers in a one-hour documentary, Anatomy of a Formula One Team, Toyota was able to engage viewers in their passion for Formula One and demonstrate how the "Toyota Way" helps improve the performance of Panasonic Toyota Racing. Discovery gained unprecedented access to Toyota's factory and development facility in Cologne and its viewers were able to view exclusive test footage, interviews, and gain a never-seen-before insight. Nisha Gupta, the ZenithOptimedia international account director, described the process as "a huge task", but said it paid off because it achieved "higher levels of engagement".
"Getting all parties involved, including clients from Tokyo, was a challenge. We'd never attempted anything on this scale before, we needed unlimited access to Toyota's facilities and F1 is a closely guarded secret," she revealed.
Carat's Emma Asquith says of the work: "A good partnership. Toyota leveraged its F1 assets well. And Discovery appreciates that F1 is a big hit with viewers."
Campaign score: 8/10
The Sure/Rexona "Fans United" series comprised 13 factual documentaries, which were 30 minutes in length. They were distributed globally in the lead-up to the World Cup and examined the universal passion of football fans, their attitudes and love for the game. The MindShare team worked with Unilever, Europe, to create a brief, with Unilever providing the finance for the project. It was produced by Steadfast Television, and distributed by SET, both part of Apace Media. The initial programme concept came from SET and was developed jointly with MindShare. The show was compelling enough to gain distribution in 40 countries in three continents, including ESPN across Latin America and ITV1 in the UK.
The business director of MindShare Performance, Mark Campbell, says of this type of content: "When it's done wrong, it can be horrendous. When it's done for the right brands, branded content can be effective."
Walker Media's Davis says of the work: "This lives or dies by the distribution, so terrestrial take-up on ITV1 is a good sign. Engaging content and smart integration with Sure's 'Wildest Fan' activity makes this a credible endorsement of Sure's footballing credentials ..."
Campaign score: 7/10
HSBC sponsored a series of vignettes on BBC World featuring high-profile golfers offering expert tips. The "Golf Range" vignettes strengthen HSBC's TV execution - "swings" - and support the bank's position as a global sponsor of golf.
In the vignettes, professional UK golfer Nick Dougherty and other golfing professionals demonstrate the best ways to stand, chip and run, grip, putt and drive. Other vignettes produced by BBC World include the "world challenge" series sponsored by Shell and "delivering success", which is sponsored by UPS.
The HSBC global team leader at JWT, Joseph Petyan, says the work for the bank in the branded content arena is taken very seriously at the agency. He points to the website, which forms a central thread of a separate campaign, "your point of view" as a good example. Here, people can learn about different viewpoints from anyone around the world. "It's not about selling financial services," he says.
Walker Media's Davis says of the BBC World work: "The tips are basic for all but beginners - which limits potential for engagement and payback for golf fans."
Campaign score: 6/10.